An american abroad during the U.S. elections

by Kim on November 5, 2012 · 30 comments

Kim’s note: Another post from Brian. It has been really interesting experiencing U.S. election season abroad. Since Brian is the political guru in our relationship I asked him to write about it.


As Kim and I travel to various villages, towns, and cities, it has amazed me how many people ask us about the U.S. presidential election.

If we have a conversation with new people for more than a few minutes, inevitably the conversation will turn to the U.S. presidential election. I never expected that everyone with whom we talk would ask us about U.S. politics. I am not exaggerating when I say everyone.  Even the family we stayed with on a tiny island in Lake Titicaca asked us about the election. They did not have electricity and were a four-hour boat ride to the mainland, yet they knew the names of both Obama and Romney. I was blown away.

Talking politics is not a conversation I mind having. In fact, I enjoy it. I was a political science major in college and I do my best to keep up on the news.

The question we get the most: “Who is going to win? 

If I knew the answer to this question, I would be making my millions as a talking head on all the news shows. I tell people that I don’t know who is going to win, given that all the polls show that this election is too close to call. I try my best to remain as neutral as I can, not because I don’t have convictions in my personal political beliefs, but rather because I aim to explain to people why the election is so close and what the major issues are. I do my best to be an ambassador for the American people.

This leads to some interesting discussions sometimes.  For example, many Europeans are amazed to find out that social issues play such a pivotal role in American politics, and I try to explain how these issues effect the election while fielding questions about the separation of church and state.  Sometimes, it’s a fine line to walk.

On the flip side, I get to ask questions and learn a lot about how the political systems in other countries work and find out about what other societies value.  It’s a kind of knowledge exchange where each person (hopefully) gains a better understanding of how other people and other societies think and work. Neither one is better or worse- just different.  

Brian and our friend Leon, from New Zealand, stream the first presidential debate in Mancora, Peru. Okay, actually, in this photo they are watching music videos, but that is only because they debate was over and we still had half a bottle of rum left. 

What the conversations have made me realize is how important this election in particular is. Almost every economy around the world has been in some level of recession and recovery over the past four years. The United States economy, the largest in the world, has a huge impact on every economy.  Whether it is tourism, manufacturing, or even just buying groceries at the supermarket, the strength of the U.S. economy effects people all over the globe, and this is a major reason people are paying attention.  

It makes me realize how connected the world is and how decisions have far reaching impacts. I saw the farms in Ecuador where the bananas I purchased in Oregon are grown.  I talked to people from Mexico who work at a factory that export goods to America that are seen in every neighborhood in the U.S.  It’s hard to look at those things in the same way afterwards- you see how your daily decisions impact people who you most likely will never meet. 

I am not tying to compare politicians to bananas, but you realize that it’s fairly easy to connect the six degrees of separation from yourself to people all over the world.  And that’s a good thing, as it makes me more conscious of my decisions.

So, from the seemingly innocent question of who will win the election, comes very unexpected results, and encapsulates one of the reasons that life on the road is so good: You never know where the next great experience is going to come from. 

And please, if you are in the U.S., vote on Tuesday.  Regardless of your political ilk, let your voice be heard. 

Now, as far as who is going to win….



{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Dalene November 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm

As Canadians, WE get asked a lot of questions on the road about our thought on US politics! Just the other day we got peppered by a nice Wisconsin man about our views, and especially about our thoughts on the Canadian public health system.

I believe that most of the world should be allowed to vote in the US presidential race, as we are all so affected by it. 🙂


Brian November 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Oh, I can only imagine the questions you got, especially about the health care system. It is such a hot topic in the U.S.!


Tony November 5, 2012 at 4:43 pm

It is amazing traveling as an american during election season… you are so right! Everyone asks about it!

We try to avoid political discussions even with friends, but so many people bring it up on the road!


Brian November 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I have found that I have better political discussions with people from other countries than I ever had with friends in the States!


Stephen S. November 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Your are right! I find that when even when I am traveling in a non election season I often get asked about American politics. Like you I try to explain a little but also learn about their political system.


Brian November 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Isn’t it great learning about other political systems? I also love hearing people’s opinions on the American political system-you hear things that never get talked about in the American media.


Ashlie November 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm

“inevitably the conversation will turn to the U.S. presidential election.” Yep! And if the world could vote, Dalene, I have no doubt about who would win.

We’re crossing our fingers and holding our breath over here in Thailand.

Thanks, Ambassador Brian!


Kim November 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Ashlie, I absolutely agree “if the world could vote I have no doubt about who would win.” That is for SURE.

We are holding our breath here in Peru as well.


Brian November 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm

We’re going to be watching the coverage tomorrow with bated breath (and probably plenty of wine to celebrate/drown sorrows)


Ian November 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

this was a good read, quite insightful. i’m definitely voting tomorrow. hopefully something good comes out of it.

it’s different for me, people i come across with don’t generally ask about politics or ask me questions where i’m from unless they ask where i’m from and generally the conversation sways that way. i think a lot of it has to do with the fact that i’m filipino-american, so i tend to blend it locally when i travel except in some northern european country, and even then locals will just pass me off as some guy from asia (or mexico, i could pass for a mexican, lol) who’s traveling in their country.


Brian November 6, 2012 at 7:27 am

Ian, I agree the conversation doesn’t turn to politics until after the seemingly inevitable question “where are you from?” I don’t blend in well myself, being a very pale shade of white, bald, and with a bushy red beard, so I might get the question more often than you. And thanks for voting!


David November 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Back here north of the border, in the french part of Canada (Québec), we feel so much closer of USA since Obama is president and we really hope…but i should add that we feel really far apart of the rest of our country with Harper as prime minister, and for one, I’m sure he really miss the Bush time and hopes for a Romney time to arrive!
Hope…again, neighbors!


Brian November 6, 2012 at 7:34 am

David, thanks for your perspective. It goes to show how presidential language affects foreign relations (Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ policy didn’t win many hearts and minds…). I’m curious, how does Quebec feel far apart from the rest of the country?


David November 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Ok, I owe you a good answer but i’ll try to make it short!
Québec is a french province, language and culture wise.
We had 2 referendums in the last 35 years to separate from the ROC (rest of Canada) and we’ve just elected the separatist party (but minoritary) last september, maybe another referendum in the next months?
Canada has drop Kyoto and likes tar sands, Québec is still on track with Kyoto and our energy comes for 90% from hydroelectricity. We are a very socialist province, not only because of the healthcare system but also for family programs, school fees, etc. We are mostly leftys and the ROC is more center-right and full right in the west of the country, from where Harper, the PM, is coming (Calgary, AB, the tar sands province). It’s in parts, the reason we feel a bit ‘alone’ up here, like Astérix and all the romans around his little village! 😉
But I let you now to the end of your election evening…I think Obama will also feel like Astérix surrounded by a Congress and the Senate…republicans! 🙁
Keep up the good work with the blog Kim and…Brian!
Québec city, QC,…Canada 😉


Brian November 7, 2012 at 11:19 am

Thanks for the great explanation (understanding that it is a complex issue that takes more than a couple paragraphs to explain). I knew there was a referendum a few years ago for Quebec to separate form ROC, but my impression that it was based more on social structure, rather than political beliefs. Thanks for the enlightenment!


Cheryl November 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm

We are more alike than you think, much of BC is not for tar sands either.


David November 9, 2012 at 5:34 am

Yeap, i knew it was risky to summarize the situation in such a short text, and we often feel much alike BC, the mother land of David Suzuki, Greenpeace and MEC (our REI). I also think that Vancouver is the best city in Cda, just after Québec 😉
And Brian, to conclude, it was at first social structure but now it’s also the expending gap between the government of Harper and the provincial one, and environment is ‘one’ of the big issues.
How to make them understand that MONEY is not the future, is really tough!

Hannah November 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Argh, this post makes me so nervous! I’m British, with a sister living in Los Angeles. It makes this election even more important, as her freedom of choice could be taken away if the wrong person gets elected. I’m keeping everything crossed. Go Obama!!!


Brian November 6, 2012 at 7:40 am

Hannah, women’s rights have been been surprisingly huge in this election cycle. Huge in the respect that issues that were resolved 40 years ago (i.e. Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1973) are seemingly issues again. Regardless of who wins, I hope your sister keeps all of her freedoms.


Sarah Somewhere November 6, 2012 at 6:33 am

I’ve definitely felt ‘closer to the action’ here in Mexico, especially since there are so many US citizens here. Even in my Spanish class the name ‘Obama’ was weaved into the curriculum somewhat! I just have to believe that humanity and progressive thinking will win out. Love the music video shot and caption, it made me laugh!!! Good luck!


Brian November 6, 2012 at 7:52 am

It took a little booze and music to get over that first debate!


Carmel November 6, 2012 at 7:11 am

I was studying abroad during the early months of the 2000 election. Good times….


Brian November 6, 2012 at 7:53 am

I can only imagine what it was like in 2000. We’re you abroad during the month long recount process? If so, I would be curious to hear how people reacted to it.


Carmel November 6, 2012 at 10:53 am

No, I was there in the spring. Spain was having elections at that time, so it was interesting to see the contrasts and similarities.

We must have been going through primaries at the time.


Ashley of Ashley Abroad November 6, 2012 at 8:25 am

You’re right in that when talking about U.S. politics while abroad you should be a good ambassador, and try to educate fairly and without bias. It does seem though that lots of foreigners have a soft spot for Obama though, I have heard so much enthusiasm for him from people all over the world.


Brian November 7, 2012 at 11:23 am

I agree that the majority of the world seems to prefer Obama, or at least the people we speak with. I always try to be as neutral as possible, and when I find myself straying into my beliefs, I always try to tell people that it is my opinion. The truth is that the U.S. is a pretty ideologically divided country right now, and I do my best to provide both sides of the story.


Scott November 15, 2012 at 4:18 am

Yes, this was a big thing for me all year as I am a political guru myself. Oddly enough, I actually can’t think of anyone who has asked me about it? Maybe one guy in New Zealand back in March, and I told him Obama would win a close one, so I guess I was right! But, you are totally right about just playing it down the middle as far as explaining the process, thanks for repping us well out there. It has been really fun for my English girlfriend to see the whole thing go down from an insider perspective, at least I hope it has.


Kim November 15, 2012 at 6:09 am

Wow, really?!?! We were bombarded with questions almost all of the time. I was so happy that Brian could take the lead and answer them all as I’m horrible with the politics stuff.


Ali November 16, 2012 at 8:36 am

I’m not usually a fan of politics conversations, 1- b/c I don’t know enough about politics to have the conversation, and 2- it can get rude, insulting, or awkward very quickly. But now that I’m living in Germany, it’s a bit different. People are much more open about politics. In the US, people I didn’t know well would never ask me, “so who are you voting for?” Here, especially b/c I’m in a German class full of foreigners, lots of people asked me about the election and who I thought would win. And while in the US, you probably know people who voted on each side, here everyone seems baffled at why anyone would’ve voted for Romney. They were seriously relieved when Obama won, but before this year I had no idea US politics affected so many other people and how much other countries care about it.


Amanda November 18, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I’ve actually been abroad for the past TWO presidential elections (don’t worry, though, I still voted in both!), and it definitely is interesting to watch things from a slightly different perspective. I, too, was blown away by the interest in and knowledge about our elections in all corners of the globe – we definitely are more connected than ever before.

This year, I was in the UK. I got asked daily about the elections, and even got to try to explain the electoral college at least twice (always a fun experience…).


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